Harris County’s similar but separate case is still at the appellate level and is not affected by Sunday’s ruling. A sweeping decision from the Texas Supreme Court, however, could affect Harris and other jurisdictions that have adopted mask requirements.
Sunday’s stay is temporary; the court has yet to make a final ruling in the case. The case will continue to be heard in lower courts; Bexar County has a hearing Monday, and Dallas County has a hearing Aug. 24.
As thousands of more schoolchildren return to the classroom this week, it appears the ruling won’t have an immediate effect on them, however: Dallas ISD officials said their mandate would stay in place, citing the lack of explicit mention of the district in the high court’s order.
“Until there’s an official order of the court that applies to the Dallas Independent School District, we will continue to have the mask mandate,” Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Sunday. “After a court rules, then I will comply, if it’s not in my favor.”
Bexar County schools will also continue to require masks, according to a news release from the city of San Antonio.
The order that the Supreme Court stayed Sunday was set to expire with Monday’s district court hearing, officials said, “so the ruling has little practical effect.”
Also Sunday, Ground Game Texas PAC, along with other Democratic-led groups, announced they are fundraising for a “bail fund” for local schools that incur fines for defying Abbott’s order and continuing to require masks.
The counties, including Harris, have argued that under the Texas Disaster Act, which delineates the governor’s powers during a state of emergency, Abbott can suspend only state agencies’ orders, not those of local governmental entities.
“We won’t stop working with parents, doctors, schools, business + others to protect you and intend to win that hearing,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins tweeted Sunday.
The governor said he issued the July 29 executive order to ensure “clarity and uniformity” during the state’s pandemic response. The order prohibits local authorities from issuing mask or vaccine mandates as well has imposing restrictions on businesses.
“The ban doesn’t prohibit using masks,” Abbott tweeted in response to the ruling Sunday. “Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools.”
‘Fight the virus, not our hospitals and schools’
Last week, San Antonio, Dallas County and Harris County secured temporary restraining orders from state district court judges that allowed their mask mandates on a temporary basis. San Antonio and Dallas County also prevailed before separate appeals courts.
Sunday’s ruling comes as Texas children were hospitalized with COVID-19 at the highest rate in at least a year during the first full week of August amid a surge tied to the delta variant.
During that period, an average of 40 residents under age 17 were newly hospitalized each day with confirmed COVID-19 infections — a 25 percent increase over the week before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 11,000 Texans with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized during this fourth wave of the virus, higher than any point except the peak of January’s surge. Nearly 40 percent of new virus hospitalizations in the nation are from Texas and Florida, White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients said last week.
Abbott has asserted control over the Texas pandemic response since April 2020, when he ended the state’s stay-home order and forbade local governments from requiring masks.
Abbott ended all pandemic restrictions in March, with deaths declining steadily and vaccines widely available to adults. Hospitalizations began rising rapidly in July, however, driven by the delta variant, which is highly transmissible.
“The path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates,” Abbott said in a statement. “Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19.”
While Abbott urged residents to get vaccinated, and vaccinations in Texas are on the rise, the state remains below the national average. As hospitalizations spiked again, local leaders decided to defy Abbott and issue mask mandates.
President Joe Biden last week urged Republican governors, including Abbott, to “at least get out of the way” by dropping their bans on local mask mandates.
Abbott’s critics note that the vaccine is not available to children under 12, saying a lack of mask mandates will leave those children vulnerable to infection as they head back to class.
“It’s not too late to do the right thing,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, head of the Democratic caucus in the Texas House, in a tweet aimed at Abbott. “Rescind your executive order that ties the hands of local leaders. Allow them to protect people. To protect kids. Fight the virus, not our hospitals and schools.”
This content was originally published here.